Friday, May 06, 2005

Stormin' Into My Baseball Heart: Norm Cash

(To help celebrate the return of the baseball All-Star game to Detroit this summer, each Friday between now and the game, "Out of Bounds" will look back at a different Tigers player who toiled for the club since the last Detroit All-Star game in 1971)

Stormin' Norman Cash: Character, Anomaly

To this day, I haven't taken the end of any Tiger player's career as hard as I did Norm Cash's in 1974, and it's unlikely I ever will -- we're talking over 30 years ago here.

I was fond of Cash because he was a character, and I always gravitated to that type. Alex Karras with the Lions, Bugsy Watson with the Red Wings -- for guys like these I had a special place.

Plus, Cash, who played for the team for 15 years (1960-74), had a brief TV show in Detroit, and that was in the early 70's, way before cable and satellite and when every Tom, Dick and Harry could have a TV show. I even remember some of the theme song: "I'm a swinger, and I'll swing, swing, swing....I'm a swinger, and I'll swing, swing swing..."

Okay, it wasn't Irving Berlin stuff, but I'm pretty sure Cash sung it -- and probably wrote it as well. It was a little talk show, and of course his guests were always fellow Tigers players. I doubt very much it was Emmy material.

Cash jacked several homers over the right field roof at old Tiger Stadium. He also struck out a lot. I remember at Norm Cash Day, one of the sportswriters presented him with a baseball bat full of holes, like Swiss cheese, to commemorate all the whiffs. You do that nowadays, you get asked to step outside the lockerroom.

Cash also was the author of one of baseball's greatest anomalies. A career .271 hitter, Cash had an incredible year in 1961, batting .361 with 41 homers and 132 RBI. He never came close to any of those figures after that. Years later, Stormin' Norman admitted he was aided by a corked bat. I even thought that admission was another thing to add to his colorful legacy. But in the clutch, Cash produced. In the '68 World Series and '72 ALCS combined, Cash batted .310 with two home runs in 45 at bats.

But in August 1974 -- on my birthday, no less -- the 39 year-old Cash was waived by the team, his average in the low .200's and his spot on the team clearly gone. I cried and created a Norm Cash Shrine in my bedroom, with photos and the cut out headline from the Free Press. "Cash Cut, Northrup Traded As Tigers' Shakeup Begins." Jim Northrup went bye-bye that day, too, but it was the cashiering of Cash that bothered me most, by far.

Cash in 1974, just before
it all ended as a Tiger

Cash was a Texas boy who spoke with a drawl and did goofy things, like wear sunglasses with tiny windshield wipers on them in spring training, and doffing his cap as he was being carried off on a stretcher after damaging his ankle sliding into home plate. He also did something else I'd never known anyone else to do: against right handed pitchers, the lefthanded-hitting Cash wouldn't wear a helmet. Instead, he wore a small protective lining beneath his baseball cap. I always thought that was the coolest thing. Needless to say, my attempts to do something similar in Little League were met with outrageous disapproval.

Unfortunately, it was Cash's penchant for misadventure that contributed to his untimely death at age 51 in 1986. In the northern Lower Peninsula, Cash, who had been drinking, slipped and fell off a dock into some shallow water. But it was deep enough to drown him.

I took that hard, too.

(next Friday: Bill Freehan)


Anonymous said...

"Stormin Norman" was my favorite player. He should have been treated much better. Being released during a season the team was going nowhere. A very unclassy move. Anyway, I will always have great memories of him.

Anonymous said...

Cash had 7 home runs in only about 150 at bats in 1974. He would have had at least 25-30 had he played every day at that pace, making HIM the all time Tigers home run leader. Maybe that's why the Tigers didn't play him regularly and released him....They wanted Kaline to be the all time leader.